Today the Veterans History Project (VHP) launches a new online exhibit, part of our Experiencing War web feature series. Titled “Twenty Years of Service: Post 9/11 Veterans,” the exhibit explores the stories of 12 veterans who served during and after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Selected from VHP’s holdings of over 5,000 recent conflict veterans’ collections, these stories represent the unique experiences of veterans who served in the Middle East in the last 20 years.
September 11, 2001 was a watershed moment in American history. It changed the lives of members of the military who were currently serving, and inspired many to join in response. All of the featured veterans discuss the impact of that day on their service trajectories, and many relate their specific memories of the day itself. Joachin Marchand took his oath of enlistment on September 11, 2001, just moments before the attacks; as he said in his oral history interview, “It didn’t quite dawn on me what I had just done.” Serving in an internship with the State Department, Kimberly Mitchell was stationed in Washington, DC at the time, and recalled the palpable sense of chaos and fear in the city on that day. For Shilo Harris, September 11 was a galvanizing force, the moment in which he realized he needed to enlist. For veterans such as Rupa Dainer, Stephen Collins, and Joseph Beimfohr, who were already serving, the distant possibility of deployment became a reality.
No matter these veterans’ experiences on or after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, all of the featured collections offer the chance to hear directly from those who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere during the War on Terror. This is a hallmark of VHP and the driving force behind everything that we do—to provide the space and opportunity for veterans to describe, in their own words, what they experienced, felt and witnessed during their time in the military, and how it has affected their lives. Now more than ever, it is critical that recent conflict veterans are given the chance to speak their mind—and that we take the time to listen.
As you remember and reflect on this solemn 20th anniversary, we hope that you take the time to explore the collections highlighted in the new exhibit. If you’re a veteran, please consider sharing your experience. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if you or someone you know is in crisis – this recent article published by Government Executive includes multiple resources for help.
In the months to come, we’ll be releasing additional blog posts featuring the stories of veterans who served in the Middle East, along with a research guide relating to photograph collections of recent conflict veterans.